Hi! We’re in… Idaho

Just a quick update for those of you playing along at home. After 20 days of  grueling travel over railroad-grade bike paths and along beautiful river banks, we have finally escaped the clutches of Washington state, never to return (until October, of course). We are currently staying at a hotel in Idaho’s panhandle soaking in the 90-degree heat for some much needed rest and recuperation. I’ve never been so happy in a chain hotel.

We are using today to regroup and figure out what the next leg of this trip looks like. With all the commotion going on with the house, we haven’t really thought much past the first map of the Northern Tier route. In addition to some paperwork, we have a series of chores and errands to run which we have been neglecting due to the rigors of travel. The most exciting aspect of this break (besides all of the dining out!) will be mailing a fair bit of gear back home. For the curious, here are some things it turns out we did NOT need.

  • Clothing
    Even though we tried to be as minimal as possible with our clothing choices, it turns out there are still some extra articles that have not been used. Just goes to show that no matter how much you bring, it is probably too much.
  • Extra Fuel Bottle
    Day 20 and we haven’t yet burned through our first of two fuel bottles for the camping stove. Turns out you don’t need to cook for every single meal.
  • Hammock
    I struggled mightily with this one. We used it for the first time on this trip just two nights ago. And while it was glorious (and Mini Mash Tun got a kick out of it) it is simply not conducive to life on the road. It is rare that we are camped in a spot with the proper supports to use it, and even rarer that on those days we have the energy or desire to set up, let alone the luxury of just laying in it for a bit. We are sad to see it go, but I look forward to setting it up semi-permanently once our trip is done.
  • Large pot
    We have three pots (1-, 2-, and 3-liter). We use the two smaller ones almost daily. The largest one, for the most part, has just been used as a vessel to store the other two. We did use it recently to cook an unruly amount pasta, but after further discussion we decided we could simply cook two smaller batches in the future.

I have now been sitting in front of a computer for an hour and it is time to extricate myself before I get sucked into some kind of Wikipedia rabbit-hole.

The Route

Editor’s Note: Apologies  for the lack of contextual links which are usually sprinkled throughout my posts. My tablet’s browser seems to be having difficulty with the WordPress interface. Looks like you’ll have to do your own Googling for a bit.

Here we are, 12 days into our epically epic bike ride and it occurs to me that most of you following along at home do not even know our route. We’re following the Northern Tier route (slightly modified) as established by Adventure Cycling. The route starts in Washington and heads east through northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. From there we’ll start heading southeast through Minneapolis to Wisconsin and mostly likely through the upper peninsula of Michigan. After that is a quick turn south through the rest of Michigan, hooking a left into Ontario, and then heading home through upstate New York and Vermont. Technically, the route proper starts in Anacortes, due north of Seattle, but we wanted to hit the ground running and start heading east as soon as we left our house.

At this point it would be prudent of me to draw up a beautiful full-color map highlighting our route, but I’m typing this on 5-inch tablet at a drive-thru espresso stand using the employee wifi. You get what you pay for.

To wit, we made our way north over Lake Washington and meandered in a south-easterly direction until we hit the John Wayne Pioneer Trail just outside of North Bend. We followed this trail uphill for 20 miles or so until we made it through Snoqualmie Pass at which point it transformed into a “downhill” trail which didn’t feel all that downhill if the amount of pedaling required was any indicator.

We jumped off the trail in Cle Elum and started our northward journey to the Northern Tier, mostly via route 97, over Blewett Pass, and down into the upper Columbia River valley. Eleven days (and two relatively small mountain passes) later and we have finally arrived at the Northern Tier.

Planning the start of our journey this way allowed us to skip two relatively large mountain passes and ride through country we’ve never even driven through, let alone ridden through. It’s been glorious and wonderful and beautiful and frustrating and difficult and rewarding all at the same time and we’re only just starting.

6 Weird Tricks to a Successful Family Bike Adventure

The end is nigh. We’re starting to feel the pressure as we creep closer to our 5 July departure. And even though I have only packed a grand total of four boxes (all books, natch) I still have the time to make myself a manhattan and grace you all with another post.

Don’t say I never gave you nothin’.

Two weeks ago we conducted a semi-epic mini-adventure to Salt Spring Island in order to work out some of the more glaring kinks in our family biking/camping SOPs. Here’s what we learned. (As an entirely too long and mostly unnecessary parenthetical aside, Salt Spring Island is home to one of the most gorgeous government-run parks I have ever encountered.  Ruckle Provincial Park has 70+ campsites dotting the rocky shore. The views of the Gulf of Georgia are as incredible as they are plentiful and there is a working farm in the park. The kicker: all cars are relegated to a separate parking area rendering the campground as some kind of un-automotive wonderland. If your only camping experience is the typical dirt-driveways-in-a-ring-in-the-woods, this is truly something to behold. Canadians (or at the very least, British Columbians) deserve a medal for this kind of shit.)

Ignore the current weather when deciding on clothing.
Mrs. Mash Tun is a strong proponent of layers. Light layers, heavy layers, medium layers, medium-light layers, etc. In preparation she bought a special-purpose lightweight fleece shirt to fill an unacceptable gap between “long sleeve shirt” and “sweatshirt/light jacket”. At the time I considered such a purchase an extravagant luxury and refused to buy one. What am I going to need a fleece shirt for? It’s 80 degrees outside! Summer is here!

After many attempts of explaining the logic of her layer system to me, I reluctantly jammed a hooded sweatshirt into my pannier before walking out the door. Of course, it was cold enough for it on day one of the trip and thusly I am purchasing a special purpose lightweight fleece shirt to fill an alarming gap in my layers.

Everything takes longer than you think.
Except for, surprisingly, the actual biking. Eating breakfast, cooking dinner, breaking down camp, setting up camp, pooping outdoors… all of these things take a definite amount of time, sans toddler. With the Mini One? There is no longer any practical limit on the duration of these activities. Luckily, our only time limit for this cross country trip will be winter, though I’m not so sure now that we’ll make it…

Don’t wake the dragon.
Mini Mash Tun loves riding on the bike. She loves it so much that she often drifts away to the Land of Nod where she dreams of an endless supply of bubbles and cardboard boxes the size of Clydesdales. But should you wake her she will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger.We learned this the hard way when we stopped to take off the many layers we had assembled in the morning due to an unexpected appearance of the sun.

As a corollary to the Rule of the Dragon, do NOT, under any circumstances, pick up a sleeping toddler unless you are prepared to hold on to her for the duration of nap. Like, all two-plus hours of it. It is a commitment you should not consider lightly.

You are not on vacation.
This was a difficult one for myself and Mrs. Mash Tun to grasp. See, all of our previous bike adventures have been vacations. And we would spend money on them as if they were–beer, coffee and pastries at every cafe, beer, candlelit dinners at cute Cuban restaurants, beer, etc. Now that we are trying to “live on the road” so to speak (unemployed, it should be noted) it will be a challenge to avoid the siren’s call of dining out. Our plan is to learn to embrace the lentil and the oat. They will become our sustenance, our life force, dare I say… our friends.

You are not the toddler. The toddler is not you.
It is easy to forget that Mini Mash Tun is exerting nearly no energy while on the bike. Yes, she has pedals, but her little legs are simply not long enough to make a full revolution. And so while me and the missus are huffing and puffing going 4 MPH up a 15% grade hill, Mini is either soaking up scenery or sleeping. This makes it very difficult to judge exactly how hot or cold she is at any given moment. The confusion is further exacerbated by the fact that while she understands the context of the words “yes” and “no”, experience has taught us that she has yet to fully understand their meaning.

This same sedentary condition also results in Mini having an extraordinary amount of energy at the end of the day, when we are at our most tiredest. We have heard mid-day play time stops are a useful way to mitigate this and we intend to take full advantage of this on our trip.

Take it slow. Don’t rush. Enjoy.
The closest thing to house words the  Mash Tun Clan has are, “If it’s not fun, than you can’t do it.” This trip is supposed to be the embodiment of the journey taking precedent over the destination. Shit, we’ve been to New Hampshire before. We know what goes on there. What we don’t know is everything that is and that happens between the start and finish. That’s what the journey’s for. Go too fast, and you just might miss it.